Subversive youth development

4-H: Insidiously instilling values since 1911.

Kids usually like 4-H because it’s fun. Whether a child is learning about the science behind the poultry industry or the physics principles behind model rocketry, it’s generally safe to assume that kids enjoy themselves while they participate in 4-H programs regardless of how they are delivered. Clubs, after school programs, mentoring or workshops are program options kids love. But behind all of this fun, youth are learning other skills as well unbeknownst to them.

According to Michigan State University Extension, youth are having the time of their lives while raising their rabbits, growing their tomatoes and spending time with their mentors, but there’s a positive side effect to all of this that some may have never seen coming. While 4-H’ers take on the business of raising their pigs, for example, they are also learning about responsibility! They are learning about how important it is to take care of something, or someone else. In addition, 4-H members learn what it’s like to have someone who depends on them. They are, in a way, secretly being taught concepts that are suitable for adults.

I recently met a 15-year-old who raises chickens and takes care of horses as part of the activities for her local 4-H club; she had brought one of her chickens into my office. During our conversation it is amazing to look at what she has accomplished and how she carries herself around adults; I could tell that her time with 4-H had changed her. She was mature, confident and extremely hard working. She had a tendency to look whoever directly in the eye when she spoke and also had a firm hand shake. She was able to teach me things I didn’t even know about 4-H, such as how chickens lay eggs.

In 4-H, there is also an urban issue as well. Don’t think for one second, that only the kids who raise animals can be impacted by 4-H. Across the Metro Detroit area, kids are being taken in by a program called 4-H Tech Wizards. On the outside, it looks like these children are going to spend time playing with robots and computer games with the occasional field trip, but when you pull back the curtain, what you have is a fairly intense youth mentoring program where children are being taught practical and useful science concepts that will one day make them a productive part of America’s future work force.

Parents, take note. 4-H is after your children, and it should be. Youth will without a doubt think it is fun, but they will be forever changed by their experience, and that’s a good thing.

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